Beware The Hijabberwocky

, , , , , , | Working | October 16, 2019

(I work at an institute for further adult education, supervising examinations. There have to be two supervisors present at all times to make sure that everyone follows the rules: no cheating, no use of electronic devices, etc. One supervisor is from the institute and one acts as a neutral party and is not affiliated with us at all. The external supervisor has been working with us for many years. He is a gruff, retired teacher and works mostly on a freelance basis. However, I notice that he has become increasingly irritating and difficult to deal with over the course of the last couple of months, sometimes to the extent that he flat-out insults examinees and threatens to kick them out for the most insignificant reasons. When I supervise with him, I almost have more difficulty keeping him in check than the students. But since he has been with us for so long, my boss says that we should at least work with him occasionally to keep the good relationship. On this day, I am once again supervising an exam with him. It is still early and the examinees are slowly filtering into the room, and while I do the identity and passport checks at the entrance, he is writing down the seating plan for those who have already chosen a seat. Suddenly, I hear him raise his voice, sounding angry. Sighing internally, I make my way over to where he is to see what is going on. He is currently standing in front of a woman who is already sat down and looks rather uncomfortable. She is also wearing a hijab.)

Me: “Hey, Mr. [Supervisor], is everything okay? What’s going on?”

Supervisor: *aggressively* “Yeah, I am just doing my job! We have to collect all electronic devices that these people may have so that they cannot use them to cheat right? I want her–” *gestures to the woman* “–to show me her ears! For all I know she could have one of those button-like radio things in there and get the answers from someone else!”

(I stare at him for ten seconds flat while my brain tries to catch up with what I just heard and come up with a coherent response. He, a broad, roughly sixty-year-old guy just demanded from a clearly Muslim woman to take off her headscarf to show him her ears! After finally getting my bearings, I desperately try to defuse the situation because the woman is definitely shaking right now.)

Me: “Uh, I really don’t think that that’s necessary. We are required to collect all mobile phones, smartwatches, and the like, and we have to supervise everyone, of course, but it definitely does not say anywhere in the regulations that we are required to search the clothes of the examinees or anything! I am not sure if that would be legal.”

Supervisor: “But I am here to ensure the safety of this examination! This is a cheating risk we should not tolerate! She has to show me her ears!”

Me: *firmly because I have had enough of him* “No, Mr. [Supervisor], that is not how we are supposed to do this. The regulations of [Testing Company that develops the exams] say nothing about frisking students! If you want, we can discuss this matter later, but now the other examinees are waiting to start the exam. Please finish your seating plan and then we will continue with the examination!”

(I intentionally tried not to make a big deal out of this to keep everyone as calm as possible but I was fuming inside! Somehow I managed to convince him to drop the subject and the exam went about without another major incident. The woman was okay from what I could tell and I made sure he did not go too close to her again. I kind of understand his concern and the safety rules of these exams are definitely not foolproof but it would be way above my paygrade — and his, for that matter — to try and change them. That, and he definitely went about it in the worst possible way! I also informed my boss in great detail about what had happened. Needless to say, we do not work with this supervisor anymore.)

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